Wisconsin Geospatial News

June 6th National Day of Civic Hacking brings together GIS, programmers, open data & citizen interests


National Day of Civic Hacking

Sponsored by Code for America

On June 6th, consider collaborating with fellow community members at locations in Appleton or Milwaukee participating in Code for America’s nationwide Hack for Change event.  This is a great opportunity to bring GIS and mapping skills to a wider community seeking to leverage open data and develop applications for 21st Century government.

At the Wisconsin Land Information Association’s Annual Conference in February, I gave an introductory presentation on “Making the Case for Open GIS Data in Wisconsin.”  Among various points I emphasized were 2 key points:

  1. Locally, state and municipal governments are leading the way across the nation in open data initiatives; and
  2. Opening government data stores for use by outside parties encourages creation of innovative programming solutions by unanticipated audiences with a focus on citizen services/concerns.

Here’s an opportunity for GIS and design-savvy individuals to participate in local Civic Hackathons on Saturday, June 6th, 2015 and see first-hand how government data is being re-purposed by the community.  Appleton organizers are so keen on having GIS/mapping types participate that they’ve written an introduction to web mapping for their regular members in anticipation of taking advantage of location-based approaches.  They also reached out to our office to invite participation by interested GIS professionals.  And you don’t have to be a top-notch programmer or total techie to participate.  As Milwaukee’s event page notes, “Representatives from the City of Milwaukee, local businesses, and nonprofits will be on site to provide knowledge and expertise while individuals with a non-technical backgrounds are sought to bring real-world experience on topics such as Public Health & Safety, Education, and Mapping.”

Municipalities lead the way leveraging state and local data

Open data initiatives have gotten a lot of press lately from the federal government’s open data.gov portal to parallel state and local initiatives.  Currently at least 39 state and 46 cities/counties have open data sites.  There are numerous potential benefits not the least of which are transparency of government through access to government data by citizens.  As such, it’s not a stretch to imagine why cities are leading the way when it comes to leveraging open data efforts.  Just follow the people.  And there are complementary movements in the way of open civic software and civic hacking.  But software and programming will only get you so far unless you have real, up-to-date data on which to operate.

Open data invites outside innovation

While I’m not a big fan of the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy particularly in such lean economic times, there is evidence that open data portals do not go unnoticed and provide a solid foundation for the formation of interest groups around innovative civic hacking/ app development.  Sometimes the data portal comes first, sometimes the outside interest comes first encouraging the incorporation of an open data policy in state or local government.

Madison has a civic hacking group, dubbed HackingMadison, that preceded the city’s open data portal and demonstrated what might be possible with more data available.  While activity in the group tends to ebb and flow, their work helps the city understand how to publish data in a way that is usable by outside parties.

Mapping experts encouraged to attend

Just like when online mashups began to emerge and internt mapping was a popular component to incorporate, many locally-grown civic applications have a strong location component.  While there are a lot of free and open source programming libraries for mapping, there remains a desire to tap into local GIS and mapping knowledge and expertise.  From finding a bus to adopting a hydrant to visualizing community health, mapping and location-based information are a common foundational component.  And if you can’t make it on June 6th, keep your eye out for other opportunities whether it be through Meetups or your local #maptime chapter.

Who knows.  Maybe one of these days WLIA will host a hackathon as part of their meetings and we can invite some of these folks to come join us and teach us a thing or two!